The state House of Representatives has signed off on a plan to close and clean up Duke Energy’s 33 coal ash ponds.
The ash in the ponds is a contamination threat to waterways. And Duke Energy says it could cost up to 10-billion dollars to remove all of it.
In a House debate today, Democratic leader Larry Hall asked who would pay for the clean up.
"The rate payers really should not be penalized further in this bill," Hall said."That's the big elephant in the room."
The bill would prevent Duke from charging customers for pond clean-ups until December 2016. Representative Ruth Samuelson, a Republican from Mecklenburg County, pointed out any rate increase would need to be approved by the utilities commission.
"We have a public staff that is going to address all the concerns that our minority leader brought up, and they are, you know, concerns about as to how this is all going to be paid for," Samuelson said. "That's what the public staff does."
The bill would also make it a class two misdemeanor to knowingly make false statements about maintenance of the ponds.
Republican Representative Chuck McGrady, from Henderson County and a bill sponsor, says House and Senate leaders will meet next week to agree on a proposal they can send to the governor for signature.
"There's a lot in dispute between us and the Senate, and we're going to be dealing with changes of positions in fact right until we finish our conference," McGrady said.
The Senate bill calls for Duke to close its ponds within 15 years, which Duke says is a demanding schedule. The House version would allow for changes in that schedule if Duke proves it can’t meet certain deadlines.
The House bill also would make it a class two misdemeanor to knowingly make any false statements about coal ash clean up.
But environmental groups say both versions give Duke too much leeway and don’t do enough to protect the state’s waterways from coal ash contamination.
"This bill allows Duke to duck existing law requiring real cleanup of coal ash contamination," said D.J. Gerkin, an attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center. "Instead, the bill allows Duke to cover its ash ponds with dirt and walk away, leaving it in unlined pits to pollute North Carolina's water for generations to come."